This is a series of three posts I wrote one year ago for The Disability And Faith Forum. This is Part 1: In Memory. Stay tuned for Part 2: Community and Part 3: Lasting Impact. I am sharing these posts here, now, because once again several people I know have died in the past few months and these thoughts are still relevant.
I hesitated to write this because I don’t have the eloquence of Mike Bonikowski and I want to do this topic justice, but I have feelings and thoughts I want to share so I will try. I wrote a first draft over a month ago and since then several more people in our community have passed away and so my mind returns again and again to the way we handle those losses.
Over my years in developmental services, I have gotten to know, and have cared for, many people who have died. We work with people who are medically fragile, who have complex needs, who may have shortened life expectancies, or who may not be able to get the support that they need. Long story short, we support many people who die.
Every time someone dies we grieve. We mourn. We miss them. And then we move on.
Because there’s someone else who needs that space, who needs that funding, who needs that support, who needs our focus.
I frequently think of those we have lost and yet I hesitate to say anything to my colleagues because it feels as though we’ve collectively moved on. We need to be focussing on what’s coming up next. I hesitate to spark feelings of grief in others because I don’t want to bring people down as they’re just trying to get through their workday.
Recently though, I received a text from a colleague and friend of mine that made me rethink this. His text was short and brief. It simply said “I miss John. I think of him frequently in the winter.”
As I read the text my eyes filled with tears and I felt deep grief because I also miss John and I also think of him often in the winter.
John is someone that we supported at Christian Horizons who died tragically in the wintertime a few years ago. He left behind a huge hole in his community, both within Christian Horizons and beyond.
I think of him frequently but I don’t speak of it much because we are all busy with the business of supporting other people. I don’t want to be the one who brings the mood down.
But receiving that text didn’t bring my mood down. It was actually a gift. Reading that text gave me a sense of shared grief. It brought a sense of solidarity in the sadness of missing someone.
I think that’s something we could do better in our field.
Of course we do the ritualistic mourning. We may hold a funeral or memorial service. There will be a video at the end of the year with the names and the birth and death years of all the people who passed away. We might honour them in our newsletter shortly after their passing. However we don’t hold them in our collective consciousness and continually grieve together.
When our family members or friends pass away we continue to hold that space when we gather. We remember where they would be if they were here. Their absence is a presence in the room, and so they’re not really gone. There is a noticeable void.
In developmental services the absence becomes filled with a new person’s presence almost immediately. This is necessary and good because it means someone else is getting the services they need. A new person is being supported and included, which is our goal and mandate.
It doesn’t negate the fact though that someone was lost and that someone is worth remembering.
Going forward I will try to remember that a simple text or statement expressing that feeling of missing someone need not bring a weight upon the group. On the contrary, it can be a buoy that lifts our hearts together. If grief is an expression of love then may we find ways to grieve, and love, together.
Open Future Learning produced this song based on Mike Bonikowsky’s poem that expresses similar feelings to what I’ve tried to describe. Please take a moment and listen.